If you are sure that you have an adult male and female of the same species, you are in an excellent position to begin mating preparation. An adult female will usually moult every 14-18 months, and so mating should be done before the final six months of her cycle to ensure successful courtship. Upon maturing, males will lose bulk in their abdomen and their legs will become long and spindly, this, in addition to the development of Tibial Apophysis, or mating hooks as people like to call them, are both an indication that he is ready to produce a sperm web and go on to mate.
Some species do not have mating hooks; a list is defined here. He will use the mating hooks to lift the female by her fangs during mating, the bulbs where he will store his sperm after creating a sperm web.
Before he is ready to mate the male will need to produce a sperm web, generally made within a couple of weeks of his maturing moult, so keep an eye out if you are expecting this to happen. He will produce a hammock-shaped web in the corner of his enclosure, usually above the ground rather than inside his burrow. He will then deposit his sperm in the web by a wriggling motion underneath it. To collect the sperm he then walks over the web hammock, and if you look closely at his bulbs, you will see his embolus (a small pointed hook) going into the web and taking the sperm from the web. When he is finished with the sperm web, he will usually destroy it, and the sperm is safely stored in the bulbs until he finds a female.
Introducing the Male and Female
The male should always be introduced into the female’s enclosure, never the other way round; he should be presented at the opposite end to the female’s position or burrow if she is hiding. This technique allows the male and female to sense each other’s presence and approach each other with caution, preventing any unwanted fights.
He will now begin to act bizarrely, twitching and dipping his abdomen. Drumming is a common mating communication technique used by tarantulas, he will hit the substrate with his front legs and pedipalps, as he approaches the female, and she may reciprocate with some drumming of her own. They are both analysing each other’s response and deciding if it’s safe to continue.
When their legs first touch, he will keep tapping and rubbing her legs until she goes into a threat-like posture. His mating hooks attempt to grab hold of her fangs so that he can lift her and expose her underside. He will now insert his embolus into her epigastric furrow and deposit his sperm. This process may take a long time; usually, a couple of hours will be enough for mating to occur. It is important to keep an eye on them at all times, as you may be required to separate them if a fight breaks out. Do not leave them together for extended periods if you are inexperienced, especially if they do not seem interested with each other, as they may irritate each other and the male will probably get eaten. Attempt several introductions aiming to see the insertion of his embolus into her epigastric furrow on at least two occasions, this way, you can be sure she takes his sperm to fertilise her eggs.
Egg sac production
A mated female will begin to eat as if she has just moulted. She will need all the energy she can get for egg sac production, and this means feeding her all the food she will accept. A plumping abdomen is a good sign that she is ready to lay an egg sac, and this can be expected around 1-5 months after a successful mating. This duration will change depending upon species, temperature, humidity and other variants such as atmospheric oxygen concentrations.
The signs that she is ready to lay an egg sac are similar to an upcoming moult, which is excessive webbing and refusal of food. At this point, you should consider taking a step back and letting nature take its course. Disturbing the female may have devastating results on all the hard work reaching this point, as a stressed tarantula will destroy and eat what remains of her egg sac. E. Cyanognathus are a species that will carry the egg sac around, rotating it and massaging it, allowing the eggs to grow. As long as the female is carrying the egg sac, she should not be disturbed at all; any disturbance could result in the egg sac being eaten or destroyed. If a female drops the egg sac, you may wish to recover it and rear it yourself. Other species such as Pterinochilus murinus will not carry their egg sac with them and will attach it to a suitable covering such as a rock or tree stump. She will choose this location in accordance to their humidity and temperature needs. These eggs do not need massaging or rotating and can be removed from the female, or better the female removed from them to prevent her from eating them.
After 1-4 months of painstaking watching and waiting, the eggs should have grown into eggs with legs, and later into nymphs. Finally, the nymphs will moult for the second time and out pops a spiderling. You need to take the egg sac from the mother when you suspect that nymphs have hatched. To do this, try to isolate the female from the sac using a cup.
Cannibalism is common in tarantulas but rare between nymphs, so separation is not necessary until the nymphs have completed the moult into spiderlings. Spiderlings will tolerate each other’s company for a further 2-3 moults; however, there will inevitably be some cannibalism. Separate the spiderlings into appropriate containers such as small spice storage jars, pill jars or waxworm tubs. Some species can be raised communally, but there aren’t many.
It is possible for the female to lay a second egg sac so she must be fed well and left to rest. If a second egg sac is not produced, she will probably moult and in which case lose what remains of the male’s sperm. She can now regain strength and prepare for another mating, or, a happy retirement.
Caring for spiderlings
Spiderlings can live in appropriate containers such as small spice storage jars, pill jars or waxworm tubs. The substrate can be something that will retain a small amount of moisture to enable a humidity level that is slightly greater than the tarantula species requires as an adult.
They should be offered food, such as crickets, fruit flies, etc, up to three times a week.